Today it's a new trojan that's making the rounds. Tomorrow, a particularly virulent strain of phishing malware. By mid-week, there's a major bank hack that's happened, and by Sunday a huge ecommerce platform has been hacked. In the world of cyber crime, we're getting to the point where attacks are almost scheduled. They happen constantly, unrelentingly, giving us barely enough time to process each one before a new strain emerges. Over the past few years, we've grown so accustomed to the malicious intrusions that crowd tech headlines that we've started to become somewhat indifferent toward the whole thing. Oh, another cyber attack? What else is new?
The problem with this indifference, though, is that that's no way to treat virtual crime. Ours is a world where cyber criminals not only have innumerable malicious strains at their disposal, but also posses a huge degree of power. The potential magnitude of cyber crime now and moving forward hasn't been lost on industry analysts, who've predicted horror scenarios like nation-state attacks carried out via the cyber sphere and cyber crime that increasingly blurs the line between virtual disruptions and real-life violence. Basically, there's a storm of cyber activity happening, and we're right in the middle of it.
Yet most people don't seem to grasp the magnitude of the situation with regard to cyber crime. Simply put, hackers are far ahead of most individuals and businesses, and the fact that they have the competitive edge means things will get worse before they get better. The typical cyber criminal working today doesn't have to be particularly sophisticated, and doesn't have to have a large fear of capture. Fueled by the prospect of low-risk virtual crime, more and more people are flocking to this malicious practice.
Part of the reason that people don't do much to protect against cyber crime is because they'd prefer to live in denial about the degree of threat posed by virtual intrusions. But this kind of willful denial won't do them any favors, especially since hackers are emboldened by the poor preparedness and security avoidance of potential targets. Yet in a world of broad headlines – This attack left millions compromised! This one resulted in losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars! – it can be hard to hone in on the specific threats that we face. But identifying those threat types and learning about them are two of the key steps to better preparedness. Therefore, with 2015 well underway, we decided to highlight the main cyber threats that have been occurring and will be popping up for the rest of the year:
Mobile adware: You know what's bad? Adware. You know what's worse? Mobile adware. As Trend Micro's May report "Bad Ads and Zero-Days: Reemerging Threats Challenge Trust in Supply Chains and Best Practices" pointed out, we'd detected around 5 million Android threats by the time the report went to print. By the end of the year, we project that number will reach 8 million. But within the mobile threat sphere, nothing right now poses more of a threat than adware. One reason this is such a pernicious problem is that users aren't as accustomed to defending against mobile adware as they are toward its desktop counterpart, which is something that hackers are taking advantage of.
Ransomware: How valuable is your data to you? How much would you be willing to pay for its recovery? This is a question that many cyber criminals put to the test, as they carry out ransomware attacks on unsuspecting victims. Work files are emerging as particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack, but it's an intrusion that could happen to any computer system or file. A key motive for the wide array of ransomware attacks currently is that they're an easy profit-reaping mechanism for cyber criminals, as Trend Micro's report pointed out. Unlike, say, stealing bank credentials in order to breach a bank account – a process that has multiple steps before a criminal gets his or her hands on money – ransomware operates on the lucrative hacker principle of immediate reward. When a victim's system is held for ransom, that individual – or business – must pay a fixed amount of money, thereby providing an immediate financial incentive for hackers. Among the ransomware currently circulating is the highly powerful CRYPAURA, which has the capacity to encrypt over 100 types of files, as the report pointed out.
"Given the rise of crypto-ransomware numbers and its apparent expansion to cover enterprise targets, there is more reason for individuals and companies to strengthen backup systems and ensure that their files are protected," a Web page covering the report stated.
Critical infrastructure attacks: This is where things get pretty scary. The notion that our critical infrastructure is vulnerable to a virtual intrusion is frightening enough, but what's more terrifying is the idea that this isn't the stuff of the future – it's something that's reportedly already happened. According to officials in Seoul, a Dec. 2014 hack on a South Korean nuclear power plant was reportedly carried out by North Korea, as The Wall Street Journal reported. The attack – which comprised a series of intrusions – was aimed at removing data from the network that included highly confidential things like plant blueprints. In the case of this particular episode, there was no physical damage done, but that is the logical next step as critical infrastructure intrusions become a reality. In this way, it's becoming imperative not only for individuals and businesses to implement cyber strategy, but for governments to start building critical infrastructure security plans.
"It is clear 2015 is shaping up to be noteworthy in terms of volume, ingenuity and sophistication of attacks," said Dhanya Thakkar, Managing Director, APAC, Trend Micro. "It is clear businesses and individuals alike need to be proactive in protecting against threats. As a business, how would your IT-Security policies look like in a Zero Trust Environment? An aggressive and different security posture is critical to keep financial, personal and intellectual property safe."